US embassy cables
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001337 SIPDIS DEPT FOR EUR/CARC E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/07/2008 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, RU, GG SUBJECT: SITREP 1: FIGHTING IN SOUTH OSSETIA ESCALATES Classified By: AMBASSADOR JOHN F. TEFFT FOR REASONS
3. © Comment: All the evidence available to the country team supports Saakashvili’s statement that this fight was not Georgia’s original intention. Key Georgian officials who would have had responsibility for an attack on South Ossetia have been on leave, and the Georgians only began mobilizing August 7 once the attack was well underway. As late as 2230 last night Georgian MOD and MFA officials were still hopeful that the unilateral cease-fire announced by President Saakashvili would hold. Only when the South Ossetians opened up with artillery on Georgian villages, did the offensive to take Tskhinvali begin. Post has eyes on the ground at the Ministry of Interior command post in Tbilisi and will continue to provide updates. The Embassy held an EAC and will hold another to reasses the situation by COB. We have issued a warden message and are looking at the situation very carefully. If the Georgians are right, and the fighting is mainly over, the real unknown is what the Russian role will be and whether there is potential for the conflict to expand. End comment
Begin Summary: Intense fighting began in South Ossetia the evening of August 6 and continued into the daylight hours August 7. 3. © Comment. The fighting which began well before dusk on August 6 and which continued into the early daylight hours of August 7, is atypical, given that these events usually end by daybreak. From evidence available to us it appears the South Ossetians started today’s fighting. The Georgians are now reacting by calling up more forces and assessing their next move. It is unclear to the Georgians, and to us, what the Russian angle is and whether they are supporting the South Ossetians or actively trying to help control the situation.
Intense fighting broke out west of Tskhinvali at approximiately 1800 in Avnevi and Nuli and continued until 2100, when explosions were noted northeast of Tskhinvali in Dmenisi and Sarabuki. By 0600 August 7, firefighting continued to the southwest in and around Erevneti. At 1600 local time, Deputy FM Grigory Vashadze called the Ambassador to report that a full-scale South Ossetian attack against a Georgian village was underway, resulting in the death of one Georgian peacekeeper and injuries to several others. There were reports of light arms fire, RPGs, and use of heavy artillery fire August 6-7, but the latter cannot be confirmed. Local Georgian authorities assisted by a JPFK escort evacuated approximately 40 children and women from Nuli after daybreak on August 7. Georgian authorities report that the South Ossetians are moving heavy military equipment from a base in J ava, located north of the conflict zone. OSCE observers indicated that Georgian forces along with GRAD artillery are on the move, either as part of a show of force or readiness, or both.
4. © In an August 7 meeting with the FM, the Ambassador urged the Georgians not to overreact to the situation and to restore calm to the region. The FM said that Kokoity blocked the proposed meeting between Yakobashvili and Chochiev and noted that the South Ossetians had instigated the August 6 attack. Ruslan Abashidze, Georgian Ministry for Reintegration, told Poloff that three Georgian peacekeepers had been injured in Wednesday evening’s firefights and had been evacuated to the Gori military medical facility, where President Saakashvili will visit them. When the fighting escalated later on August 7, Deputy FM Vashadze told the Ambassador that one Georgian peacekeeper had been killed and several wounded. Vashadze said that heavy Russian equipment was being moved south from Java – a military base north of the conflict zone , which Georgians have not seen — even in tense times — in the past. According to Abashidze, Ossetians are shelling Georgian villages, and the village of Dmenisi has sustained significant damage.
On August 7 at 1925 Yakobashvili returned from the conflict zone and the Ambassador that the South Ossetians continued to shoot at the Georgian villages despite the announcement of the cease-fire. Yakobashvili said that he waited with General Kulakhmetov, the Head of the Russian peacekeepers in Tskhinvali for some time for the South Ossetians to show up. Kulakhmetov tried to call Chochiev, and other South Ossetians to get them together with Yakobashvili, but they did not respond. Kulakhmetov said, he “does not control anything” and that the South Ossetians were “shooting at the Georgians behind my back.” Yakobashvili said that the Russians originally agreed to host a bilateral meeting with the Ossetians and the Georgians outside the JCC. Popov came to Georgia for this purpose and announced publicly it was his intention to do so. Then, the Russians flipped and said the meeting should be under the JCC. Yakobashvili said it was the JCC system that had caused the mess and it was time for real face to face talks
All the evidence available to the country team supports Saakashvili’s statement that this fight was not Georgia’s original intention. Key Georgian officials who would have had responsibility for an attack on South Ossetia have been on leave, and the Georgians only began mobilizing August 7 once the attack was well underway. As late as 2230 last night Georgian MOD and MFA officials were still hopeful that the unilateral cease-fire announced by President Saakashvili would hold. Only when the South Ossetians opened up with artillery on Georgian villages, did the offensive to take Tskhinvali begin. Post has eyes on the ground at the Ministry of Interior command post in Tbilisi and will continue to provide updates.
On August 7, at 22:30 local time, they attacked the village of Prisi, which was followed one hour later by an attack on the village of Tamarasheni. Civilians and peacekeepers came under massive shelling. The attacks resulted in several dead and wounded. According to available data, hundred of armed personnel and heavy military equipment have crossed from Russia to Georgia through the Roki tunnel. To protect peaceful civilian populations and to prevent further military attacks, the Government of Georgia has been forced to take adequate measures. Despite this most recent escalation, the Government of Georgia once again reiterates its readiness to immediately begin peace talks aimed at resolving the conflict in South Ossetia and calls on the separatist rebels to cease their military actions and come to the negotiation table.
Georgia’s answer for Russian Aggression
OSCE observers on the ground in Tskhinvali told Poloff that Georgia’s attack on Tskhinvali began at 2335 on August 7 despite the cease-fire declared at 1900. The shelling intensified at 2345, with the Georgians possibly using large caliber mortars and GRAD artillery, with impacts every 15-20 seconds, and the South Ossetians returning fire. By observers’ calculations, by 0035 there were at least 100 hits on the city of Tskhinvali, some of them damaging the OSCE field office there. Currently, the OSCE has electricity, but part of the building has sustained damage and the internet is down. There was a lull in the activity between 0145 and 0415, when the situation began to re-intensify, and by 0615 loud explosions could be heard. The number of casualties are unknown as emergency services are unable to move freely on the ground due to firing. Most local residents are confined to cellars and basements waiting for calm to return. 8. © At approximately 0400 on August 8, the Georgian National Security Council asked the U.S. for the return of 1,000 of its troops from Iraq, 500 within the next 24 hours, and the remainder within 48 hours. A regularly scheduled rotator flight may return up to 250 troops to Georgia by this afternoon. (Note: USG agreement with the GOG provides for emergency return of 1,000 troops within 96 hours. End note.) Later, Saakashvili announced a general mobilization of all reserves. In a second address, he called Russia’s actions “open aggression” and called on the international community to help repel it. 9. © Conversely, the Russians have said they believe Georgian forces are targeting Russian peacekeepers. They have told the Georgians that in view of these attacks Georgia bears responsibility for anything that might follow. The Georgians have replied that they are avoiding any conflict with the peacekeepers as well as civilians. The Georgians believe the South Ossetians are targeting the Russians to provoke a bigger Georgian-Russian conflict. 10. © The South Ossetians are reportedly now accusing the Russians of betraying them. One plausible explanation for all this is that de facto leader Kokoity decided to roll the dice and stimulate a conflict with the Georgians in hopes of bringing in the Russians and thereby saving himself or enhancing his position. Reports that Kokoity has left Tskhinvali remain unconfirmed. TEFFT